Buddy Ebsen was a real-life Jed Clampett

He wasn't a hillbilly, but Ebsen was closer to Clampett than you might expect.

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Sure, Buddy Ebsen wasn't a poor mountaineer. Unlike his most famous character, he kept his family fed. He wasn't, in truth, a widowed hillbilly that lived in an oil-rich swamp. He was an actor. But, if you zoom out on all the details, his life's arc isn't too dissimilar to Jed Clampett's.

"I never compare myself to Jed Clampett," Ebsen told Florida Today in 1970. "I'm not a hillbilly, although I've known a lot of them and studied a lot of hillbilly. Jed is more of a countryman, he's universal. You can look around and find lots of Jed Clampetts. They are very simple people of dignity, with respect for their environment and their fellow people. And they're friendly." 

Of course, Ebsen wasn't Jed. He played Jed on The Beverly Hillbillies. But, by all accounts, Ebsen was universal, simple, dignified, and friendly.

The similarities grow more conspicuous when you track Ebsen's life. Ebsen may not have grown up in the swamp, but he shared a lot of the same hopes and desires as his onscreen counterpart. In 1928 and 1929, Buddy Ebsen attended both the University of Florida and Rollins College, where he was enrolled in a medical program. However, much like the character he'd become famous for playing, Ebsen wanted more.

Discontent with his lot in life, Ebsen gambled on himself, dropping out of medical school to pursue a career in show business. Luck, laughter, and a fierce desire to succeed in show biz pushed Ebsen out of the safety of medical education. With that decision, Ebsen submitted himself to the insecurity of the actor's life, never sure exactly when the next job will come around and how much it will pay. Compared to the safety and soundness of being a lifelong doctor, acting for a living opens one up to tumult and instability. For Ebsen, there were late hours, missed meals, hard work, applause, and boos; he hit all the highs and lows relatable to anyone with a dream.

"Tomorrow had to take care of itself in those days," Ebsen reminisced.

But then, the gamble paid off. Ebsen found the role that would be his oil well. A well-worn jacket, an old hat, and a mustache became his bubblin' crude. From each teleplay came homespun idioms that would define Ebsen's life. Each scripted snippet of Tenessee Hills wisdom was like his black gold or Texas tea. 

Buddy Ebsen, just like Jed Clampett, was a symbol of hope, a rags-to-riches story that could only happen in America.

"I have a very simple philosophy," said Ebsen. "I feel that any American citizen with eyesight and a reasonable amount of health is a billionaire."

Despite their philosophical similarities, though, Ebsen seemed to never quite grasp how much of himself there was in Jed Clampett, opting instead to highlight their aesthetic differences.

"Jed Clampett has a mustache," said Ebsen, "and I don't." 

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27 Comments

trogg888 8 months ago
Buddy ebson was supposed to play the tin man in wizard of oz movie but he was allergic to the silver make up and had to drop out
Andybandit 8 months ago
I never seen an episode of BJ. It comes on at 3am MT time. That is something they could put on at 5pm MT. Between Adam-12 and MASH.
daDoctah 8 months ago
I love how when they made the Beverly Hillbillies movie (Jim Varney as Jed, Dabney Coleman as Mr Drysdale, Lily Tomlin as Miss Jane) they had the Clampetts consult with a private detective to protect them from a scammer, and the detective they ended up with was Buddy Ebsen as Barnaby Jones.

(Beverly Hillbillies was Ebsen's *second* big TV part. Before that, he played friend and biographer George Russell in the 1955 "Davy Crockett" series.)
LoveMETV22 8 months ago
Not his first, but a very early film appearance:
"Buddy Ebsen - Dance Scene from "Born to Dance" - 1936"
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justjeff musicman37 8 months ago
True. I just told the story "as it was reported"...
JHP JeffPaul76 8 months ago
the tin man for me for sure
LoveMETV22 musicman37 8 months ago
I didn't know there was an "Official" source in regard to " The Wizard of Oz", that outlined all the
behind the scene information.
CouchPotato19 LoveMETV22 8 months ago
Hey! That boy ain't half bad!!
cperrynaples 8 months ago
To this day, I still wonder what a "well doggie" is! Sounds like what Lassie was when he saved Timmy...LOL!
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MrsPhilHarris WGH 8 months ago
I just played a couple of clips and it sure sounds like “Well doggie”.
CouchPotato19 justjeff 8 months ago
I like to soak my feet in Ebsen Salts.
Runeshaper 8 months ago
Sounds like a man that had a sound view on life.
Runeshaper 8 months ago
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LoveMETV22 8 months ago
" Ebsen may not have grown up in the swamp,"
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But what if he had?
JHP LoveMETV22 8 months ago
I don't see a glass of milk there - but I do see a still with rice and raisins in it:)
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